Pentecostal conference sues to reclaim MI church property

  • Friday, March 29, 2013

  • Updated Monday, September 23, 2013 10:54 am

Scott Harper/Times
The now-closed church on Hammock Ave. in Murrells Inlet is on property that is the focus of a lawsuit filed against the church and its leader.

A holy war, of sorts, has erupted in Murrells Inlet as the South Carolina Conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church has filed a lawsuit in an effort to reclaim the property that was once the site of one of its churches.
Defendants in the lawsuit are Murrells Inlet Pentecostal Holiness Church, Touching Heaven Changing Earth Ministries and Zingle Avent Browder Jr.
According to the suit,  Murrells Inlet Pentecostal Holiness Church (MIPHC) has been a member of the state conference since at least 1960 and was located on a lot on Hammock Ave. since 1964.
The deed to the property, which was conveyed to three church trustees in November 1964, contains a reversionary clause that states if the property ceases to be used by MIPHC for religious purposes, the title to the property shall pass to the church conference.
In April, 2005 — without approval from the conference — the name of MIPHC was changed to Touching Heaven Ministries (THM) by Browder, the suit states.
The suit also alleges on the same date THM was created, Browder and his wife incorporated Touching Heaven Changing Earth Outreach International (THM International). Browder is registered agent for both THM and THM International.
Neither the conference or MIPHC were parties to the creation of THM or THM international.
The suit states on Sept. 7, 2011 THM International, through Browder, applied for an equity line $50,000 loan from First Federal. On the same day, the lot next to the church property which has been used as the church parsonage, was conveyed to THM for $5.
The suit alleges two women — Wendy Jones and Elizabeth Newman — executed the deed to the parsonage property, purporting to be trustees of MIPHC.
The property was used to secure the $50,000 loan, the suit states.
"Browder used some of the loan proceeds for personal, not church, business," the suit states.
Once learning of the loan, the conference began to seek answers from Browder about the use of the funds but the requests for information were denied.
The suit states as of the date the action was filed, Browder "has refused and declined the conference's attempts to sort out the financial irregularities caused by Browder" that has now caused First Federal to begin foreclosure proceedings on the property.
In a twist to the situation, in October, 2012, Browder filed a lawsuit against THM — the entity he controls — and MIPHC seeking a monetary judgment.
In that lawsuit, Browder alleges THM and MIPHC breached a "Debt Settlement Agreement." He claimed damages in the amount of $180,000.
The conference suit says MIPHC was never party to any such agreement. It also notes when Browder filed that lawsuit, MIPHC was no longer in existence.
The agreement in Browder's lawsuit was signed in May, 2012 by himself and Jones, who signed on behalf of THM and THM International.
"Browder signed an agreement with two entities he controls — in effect, he contracted with himself," the conference suit states.
He was awarded a summary judgment in his lawsuit in January, according to court records.
The conference lawsuit alleges under Browder's leadership at MIPHC, the church stopped paying the required tithes to the conference and he refused to allow conference officials to review the books and records of the church.
"Church services and membership dwindled," the suit states.
On Feb. 12, 2013, the conference learned the church property was no longer being used for religious services, therefore, the conference says it is entitled to the land, building and assets, based on the deed signed in 1964.
The conference is asking the court for an order restraining Browder and his ministries from using any church funds or from using property for mortgaging purposes. It is also asking for the title to the church property.
The Georgetown Times made attempts to get comment from Browder Thursday. His phone number is not listed, the phone service to the church has been disconnected and court documents to not list an attorney representing Browder.

By Scott Harper
sharper@gtowntimes.com

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